UPA hopes to pass food bill next week

New Delhi, Aug 11 (IANS) With the first week of the monsoon session -- which started Aug 5 -- lost to disruptions, the government hopes to get the food security bill passed in parliament before Aug 15, informed sources said Sunday.

"We hope to pass the food bill before Aug 15," said an official adding that the bill will be debated and passed in the Lok Sabha Monday.

It will then be taken to the Rajya Sabha Tuesday or Wednesday.

Once passed by both the houses, the bill, a pet legislation of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, will be sent to the president for his approval.

Since the bill was introduced in the lower house last week, Congress leaders have been appealing to all parties to pass the welfare legislation.

"Sonia Gandhi's dream is near completion. The food security bill will be taken up in the Lok Sabha Monday. We appeal to parties to pass it," Congress spokesperson Raj Babbar had told reporters Thursday.

Getting the food security bill passed in this session is a top priority for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government as it could not be passed in the previous budget session.

The government is keen to get it passed this week because several Congress-ruled states, including poll-bound Delhi, Haryana and Assam, have said they would launch the scheme Aug 20, the birth anniversary of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

But managing the large number of amendments, including 71 by the government and a large number moved by the opposition parties, will not be an easy task for the Congress floor managers.

Former UPA ally DMK, which is opposed to the bill in its present form, is likely to move three amendments besides over 50 changes suggested by the Communist party of India-Marxist and a few likely by the Biju Janata Dal.

The bill, expected to be a game-changer for the ruling Congress ahead of five assembly polls this year-end and the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, aims to provide 5 kg of foodgrains every month at Rs.1-3 per kg to around 67 percent of India's 1.2 billion people.

The bill, part of Congress manifesto in the 2009 polls, is expected to bring electoral benefits just as the rural job plan - the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme - did in the 2009 general elections.

The bill, costing Rs.124,723 crore to the government initially, will bring an additional burden of only Rs.23,800 crore, the Congress has said.

Food Minister K.V. Thomas has said the government had already procured an average 60.2 million tonnes of grains in the past four years and would have no difficulty in managing the 61.2 million tonnes needed in all for the envisaged scheme.

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